Toddlers Who Eat Fish Have Lower Risk of Neurodevelopmental Delays

Including fish in a toddler's diet may benefit neurodevelopment, say researchers from Penn State College of Medicine, and it might have something to do with the child's microbiome.

While several factors likely contribute to a child's brain development, such as genetics and environment, recent research suggests that infant nutrition and its influence on the gut microbiome may also impact neurodevelopmental outcomes. Moreover, other research has revealed links between the gut biome and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In a study published in the journal Microorganisms, researchers from Penn State College of Medicine found more evidence that dietary choices may influence whether a child experiences a neurodevelopmental delay.

Specifically, they found that 12-month-old youngsters who consumed fish once a week were less likely to experience delays in motor skills, language abilities, social skills, and cognitive development than those who didn’t eat fish.

The team recruited 142 children from birth to 18 months to conduct the research. Using a standard food questionnaire developed by the CDC and the FDA, the researchers assessed the youngsters' diets at six and 12 months.

The scientists also recorded factors associated with child development, such as sex, ethnicity, race, household income, and exposure to pollution.

At six months, the team obtained saliva samples to determine the activity levels of specific bacteria. Then, at 18 months, the children's parents completed a survey to assess speech, motor, and social skills.

At the study's conclusion, tests revealed that 16% of the participants were at risk for neurodevelopmental delays, and those at risk were less likely to consume fish once per week than children without delays.

Moreover, the team found that Hispanic ethnicity and increased activity of Candidatus Gracilibacteria — a microbe found in saliva — were linked to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental delays. In contrast, living in a home built after 1977, which is less likely to contain lead-based paint, and increased activity of Chlorobi — another saliva microbe — reduced that risk.

However, outside these non-dietary factors, eating fish once a week at one year of age still appeared to lower the risk of developmental delays, and this was intensified by the youngsters' microbiomes.

In a news release, corresponding author Steven Hicks, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State, said, "Our results suggest that microbial diversity may be important for the metabolism and utilization of essential nutrients, such as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, that are associated with fish consumption."

Still, the study's authors say these results should be interpreted with caution, as the study only included a small number of participants. They note that randomized control trials assigning toddlers and their families to specific fish consumption groups would help clarify the findings.

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